David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

The latest SsangYong Rexton is now much closer in price to the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento. Can it hold its own as a tow car? Read on

Overview

The old Rexton was cheap to buy new, but had been past its sell-by date for some years. The new SsangYong Rexton promises to be altogether better.

It still features old-fashioned body-on-chassis construction, which helps to keep the kerbweight high, but in terms of safety kit, in-car technology and the standard of finish, the new Rexton is a far more modern car.

Can it hold its own against the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento?

Towing

In terms of pounds for your £s, you get a lot of car with the SsangYong; the Rexton auto has a kerbweight ranging from 2105kg to 2233kg depending on the specification. 

Even taking the lower weight, the SsangYong is heavier than competitors such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. The 85% match figure of 1789kg means the Rexton makes a sensible match for most big twin-axle caravans, even if you take a cautious approach to outfit matching. 

SsangYong quotes a legal towing limit of 3500kg. However, going by the weights quoted on the VIN plate, that drops to 3000kg when the car is fully loaded. That’s still significantly more than any caravanner is likely to tow.

The old Rexton was heavy and had a high towing limit, but performance was pedestrian when towing a big tourer. The new model has more punch, with 179bhp and 310lb ft of torque. Even pulling a big Coachman Laser 640/4 with a MiRO of 1656kg, the Rexton accelerated from 30-60mph in 14.5 seconds. That’s almost five seconds quicker than the old car managed to achieve while pulling a similarly hefty caravan.

The Mercedes-sourced seven-speed automatic gearbox can be a little slow to grab a lower gear, but it changes gear smoothly. There’s also a manual model if you opt for the EX or ELX models, although the top- spec Ultimate is auto only.

For the most part the Rexton is stable at motorway speeds, but at times more tightly controlled suspension would make the car feel more secure; in crosswinds or when overtaking high-sided vehicles it moves around a little more than Land Rover Discovery Sport.

The lane-change test didn’t play to the Rexton’s strengths. It wasn’t keen to change direction in a hurry, with lots of lean and modest grip. We could also feel the caravan pushing and shoving at the back of the car. Hill starts suit the SsangYong better. We prefer electronic parking brakes such as the SsangYong’s to conventional handbrakes, because they typically hold car and caravan still and release without fuss.

The SsangYong has a switchable 4x4 system, so the driver can choose between that and rear-wheel drive. There’s enough traction for easy hill starts in the dry in rear-wheel drive, and of course the 4x4 modes (both high and low ratio) help when things get slippery.

The SsangYong’s brakes are able to stop car and caravan in 11.2 metres. That’s a reasonable stopping distance, although we could feel some shunting from the caravan.

Everyday driving

There’s no question that the Rexton is a much better car to drive and travel in than the old model, but it still falls short in some areas.

Big bumps send a shudder through the car that can be felt through the steering wheel as well as the driver’s seat, and the suspension feels short of control on country roads.

The steering is more direct than the old car’s, but there’s no getting away from the Rexton’s sheer size and weight in bends.

Things improve on the motorway, where the ride smooths out somewhat. There’s some wind noise at speed, but otherwise the car is quiet and refined. The engine sounds far more distant than it did in the old model, for example. The Rexton delivers a respectable turn of speed, too, with enough punch for confident overtaking.

Going anywhere in a hurry isn’t really the Rexton’s forte, though. It suits a relaxed and laid-back driving style that doesn’t ask too many difficult questions of the chassis.

Leave Tarmac behind and head into the back of beyond, and the compromises in the SsangYong’s road-going performance start to pay off. It’s superbly capable off-road. However, unless you go green-laning regularly there’s no shortage of big 4x4s that are better to drive.

Space

Anyone familiar with the old Rexton will step inside the new car and feel that SsangYong has skipped ahead a couple of generations. The design is far more modern and the standard of finish can stand comparison with rival big 4x4s.

You sit high, as you’d expect in an SUV, in comfortable, electrically adjustable seats. Forward visibility is good, although the view over your shoulder is hindered by the thick rear pillars.

There’s a 7-inch LCD screen between the speedo and rev counter which can be configured to show different information. There’s also a 9.2-inch touchscreen system in the centre of the dashboard, which we found straightforward to use.

Unusually for a range-topping model, there’s no panoramic sunroof, although this does help with headroom; even if you are tall and like the seat set high you should have plenty of space.

The same is true in the second row, with more than enough head- and legroom for adults to travel in comfort. The width of the cabin means three should be happy travelling in the back, and there’s only a slight transmission tunnel hump in the floor.

There are five- and seven-seat versions of the Rexton. Without the third row of seats, the Ultimate model has a large boot. SsangYong quotes a figure of 820 litres, rising to 1977 litres with the second row folded.

The boot floor can be set to two levels. The higher level makes for hidden storage underneath, and a more even transition from the boot floor to the back of the second row of seats if it’s folded.

Many caravanners will be pleased to know that a full-sized spare wheel is available as an option (a repair kit is standard).

Running costs

Is £37,995 too much to pay for a SsangYong? Well, a few years ago many car buyers would have baulked at paying that much for a Kia, but the top-spec Sorento now costs £41,995.

If you can forgo some creature comforts and are happy with a manual gearbox you can buy a Rexton EX for £27,995. Autos start from £29,995. 

For our money, the mid-range ELX looks to be the sweet spot for value with a price of £32,495 for the manual and £34,495 for the auto.

If you can stretch to the Ultimate trim you’ll get lane change assist, blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert as standard. Quilted leather is another upgrade, as are ventilated front seats with a memory function, a powered tailgate, 20-inch alloys and a three-dimensional ‘around view’ monitoring system.

When the time comes to sell the car on, our colleagues at What Car? reckon you can expect the Rexton Ultimate to be worth around 39% of its original price. That’s not a particularly strong figure.

We’d also be concerned about economy. Even the official tests give a figure of 34.8mpg on the combined cycle. Towing the Coachman on a mixed route of A-roads and motorways, we saw a disappointing 19.5mpg.

Technical specs

Engine size2157 cc
Kerbweight2105 kg
85% KW1789 kg
Towball limit128 kg
Maximum towing limit3500 kg
Power179.0 bhp
Torque310.0 lb ft
Official MPG34.8 mpg
Towing MPG19.5 mpg
CO2213 g/km
30-60mph14.5 seconds
30-0mph11.2 m

Verdict

The new Rexton certainly isn’t perfect, but it shows how far SsangYong has come in the space of a few years.

Forget the low-rent cabins of older models; the new Rexton is fresh and modern inside. It’s solidly made and roomy and practical with it. The driving position is comfortable for long journeys and there’s enough space in the second row for tall passengers to stretch out and relax. What’s more, the boot is comfortably big enough to deal with a family’s holiday luggage.

In solo driving, the Rexton doesn’t ride and handle with the polish of a Kia Sorento, but it has fewer rough edges than its predecessor. And if you do take your 4x4 off road, the Rexton is more capable in the rough than most of its road-biased rivals.

As a tow car, the new Rexton’s extra power and torque make for determined acceleration when pulling a twin-axle tourer. Once up to speed, the SsangYong’s sheer heft makes for reasonable stability, but there were some slight movements in crosswinds or when overtaking HGVs.

There’s no getting away from the new Rexton’s higher price, but it’s still good value compared with its competitors.

That said, we’d be inclined to choose the mid-spec ELX rather than the Ultimate tested here to better balance price and specification. We’d offset the saving against the steep fuel bills owners can expect, both in everyday driving, when solo, and while towing.

So we have some reservations about the new Rexton. But overall it’s one of SsangYong’s best models yet.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Fresh, modern interior
  • More than capable off-road
  • Good value compared with competitors

Cons

  • Doesn't ride or handle as well as rivals
  • Poor fuel economy